Appalachian Dance


Traditional dancing in Appalachia includes several types: step dancing, set dancing, and couple dancing. Step dance traditions include clogging, buckdancing, flatfooting, and the Charleston. Set dances, involving two or more couples, include four couple squares, big set (ring) dances, reels, country (contra) dances, and play parties. Couple dancing, often referred to as “round dancing,” includes the two-step and waltz. The roots of Appalachian dance are varied and include the influence of English, Scots-Irish, French, African-American, and Native American dances, as well as American popular culture. Much of the older printed material on Appalachian dance reflects a strong Anglo-centric bias, and while containing valuable information, it should be viewed skeptically.

Introductory Text: 

Spalding, Susan Eike and Jane Harris Woodside, eds. Communities in Motion: Dance, Community, and Tradition in America’s Southeast and Beyond. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1995. ASU APP COLL GV1624.A7 C65 1995

This book contains essays from a variety researchers on a wide range of topics related to vernacular dance traditions in Appalachia. It provides a good introduction to these topics.

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly Relevant

Clog dancing

Country-dance -- Southern States

Dance -- Appalachian Region

Dance -- Southern States

Folk dancing -- Appalachian Region

Folk dancing -- Blue Ridge Mountains

Folk dancing -- Southern States

Square dancing

Square dancing--Appalachian Region

Square dancing -- Kentucky

Also Relevant

African American dance

Indian dance -- North America


Singing games

Quadrille (Dance)



Country-dance -- United States

Folk dancing

Square dancing -- United States


Ballroom dancing -- History


Country-dance -- Scotland

Dance -- England

Dance -- History -- 19th century

Dance -- Scotland

Folk dancing -- England

Folk dancing -- Irish

Folk dancing -- Scotland

German (Dance)

Clipping Files Subject Headings – W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection: 


Library of Congress Call Numbers: 

GV 1624

GV 1763

GV 1767

GV 1771

GV 1793


Damon, S. Foster. The History of Square Dancing. Barre, MA: Barre Gazette, 1957. ASU APP COLL GV1763 .D3 1957

This well-researched, scholarly work traces the history of social dance in America, from Colonial times to the twentieth century.

Seeger, Mike. Talking Feet: Buck, Flatfoot, and Tap: Solo Southern Dance of the Appalachian, Piedmont, and Blue Ridge Mountain Regions. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1992. ASU APP COLL GV1624.A7 S44 1992

This book and the accompanying video (see Films and Videos) by the same name, provide a glimpse of the wide range of steps and styles in Appalachian step dancing as demonstrated and talked about by dancers in several Appalachian states.

Sharp, Cecil James and Maud Karpeles. The Country Dance Book, Part V. London: Novello and company, 1918. ASU APP COLL GV1763 .S5 v.5

This is English musicologist, Cecil Sharp’s description of dancing in eastern Kentucky in 1916, in which he coined the term “Running Set” to describe the Appalachian square dance. While somewhat misinformed and biased in his interpretation, this account is valuable as the earliest detailed description of Appalachian square dancing.

Smith, Frank H. The Appalachian Square Dance. Berea, KY: Berea College, 1955. ASU APP COLL GV1763 .S58

This book contains detailed descriptions of Appalachian square dance figures as taught at Berea College in the 1950s. Smith’s repeats Sharp’s earlier interpretation of the dance.

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Charles Reagan Wilson & William Ferris, eds. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989. “Square Dancing and Clogging,” Burt Feintuch, pp. 1033-1034. ASU APP COLL OVERSIZE F209 .E53 1989

International Encyclopedia of Dance. Selma Jeanne Cohen, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

“Clogging,” Jerry C. Duke and Robert G. Dalsemer, vol. 2, pp. 178-181,

“Cotillon,” Desmond F. Strobel, vol. 2, pp. 251-253,

“Country Dance,” Patri J. Pugliese, vol. 2, pp. 254-258,

“Folk Dance,” Lee Ellen Friedland, vol. 3, pp. 29-38,

“Jig,” James E. Morrison, vol. 3, pp. 607-608

“Quadrille,” Desmond F. Strobel, vol. 5, pp. 285-287,

“Reel,” James E. Morrison, vol. 5, pp. 333-334,

“Square Dance,” Lee Ellen Friedland, vol. 5, pp. 685-690,

ASU REFERENCE GV 1585.I586 1998

Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Carroll Van West, ed. Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society: Rutledge Hill Press, 1998. “Clogging and Buckdancing,” Margaret D. Binnicker, p. 183. ASU APP COLL F436 .T525 1998

The Encyclopedia of Traditional Appalachian Square Dancing. Bill Nichols & Garland Steele, Lilburn, GA, 1996. WCU MOUNTAIN HERITAGE CTR GV1763.N53 1996


Appalachian Bibliography. Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University Library, 1980. “Folk Dancing,” pp. 440-441. ASU APP COLL Z1251.A7 A6 1980

Haywood, Charles. A Bibliography of North American Folklore and Folksong, vol. 1. (1951) New York: Dover Publications, 1961. “The Folk Dance,” pp. 136-142. ASU APP COLL Z5984.U5 H32 v.1

Ross, Charlotte T. Bibliography of Southern Appalachia. Boone, NC: Appalachian

Consortium, 1976. “Folk Dances,” p. 111. ASU APP COLL OVERSIZE Z1251 .A7 B5x.

World Cat (search for “folk dancing” or “square dancing”)

Abstracts and Indices: 

American Folklore Films and Videotapes: An index. Compiled by Carolyn Lipson.

Memphis, TN: Center for Southern Folklore, 1976. “Folk Dance,” p. 33, “Hoedowns,” p. 52. ASU APP COLL Z5984.U6 C45 1976

America: History and Life (search for “folk dancing” or “square dancing”)

JSTOR (search for “folk dancing” or “square dancing”)

Ebsco Host (search for “square dancing” or “clogging”)

MLA Online (search for “folk dancing” or “square dancing”)

Old-Time Herald Index. Galax, VA: Old-Time Music Group. ASU APP COLL ML1 .O35 v.1-5, Index (Also see: Internet Resources)


Old Time Herald. Durham, NC: The Old-Time Music Group. 1987-Present, Quarterly. ASU APP COLL ML1. O35

Articles on traditional dance appear in each issue in the “Dance Beat” column. (Also see: Abstracts and Indices and Internet Resources.)


“An American Ballroom Companion Dance Instruction Manuals, Ca.1490-1920.” Music Division, Library of Congress, 1998.

“Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938.”

Manuscript Division and Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, 2001.

“A Look at Southern Squares.” Bill Martin, 2004.

The Old Time Herald.

Includes internet index to past issues.

“Traditional Square Dance and Old Time Square Dance Links”

“Country Dance and Song Society Square Dance Resources”

Audio and Video Sources: 


Ballad of a Mountain Man: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford
. WGBH Educational Foundation; WNET/Thirteen Alexandria, VA: PBS Video, 1989. UNCA VIDEO M1629.6.A67 B35 1990

Mountain Legacy. Burton Edwards, Mountain Legacy Productions, 1997. UNCA VIDEO M1629.6.A67 M68 1997

Step Back Cindy: Old Time Dancing in Southwest Virginia. Anne Lewis Johnson and Susan Spalding. Whitesburg, KY: Appalshop, c1990. ASU APP COLL VIDEO VC 84

Talking Feet: Solo Southern Dance, Buck, Flatfoot and Tap. Mike Seeger and Ruth Pershing. El Cerrito, CA: Flower Films & Video, 1987. ASU VIDEO VC 5947 (Also see: Frequently Mentioned Texts)

Dancing Outlaw. Jacob Young. El Cerrito, CA: Flower Films and Video, 1991. ASU SPEC COLL VIDEO VC 342

Other Sources: 


Peterson, Barbara. A Bibliographical Essay on the Adult Literature of the Folk Dance of Southern Appalachia. Thesis (M.S.): Palmer Graduate Library School of Long Island University, 1972. ASU APP COLL MicF 329

Dance Photo

“Dancing the Virginia Reel.” Mountain Music Jamboree, Glendale Springs, Ashe County, North Carolina, November 2002. Photo: Philip A. Jamison.

Links to Square Dance Photos on the Internet

“Square dance, Skyline Farms, Alabama.”

One of several photos at this site showing square dancing on an outdoor platform.

Library of Congress, Rural Resettlement Administration. Photo: Ben Shahn, 1937.

Links to Square Dance Videos on the Internet

“Michael Ismerio Calls an Appalachian Style Scatter Square Dance at Dare to be Square, Riner VA, in April of 2011.”!

Compiled by: 

Philip A. Jamison, 2 December 2004

Updated by: 

Shawn Terrell, 5 October 2011